In the jargon, a video call is a ‘remote meeting’. This makes it sound like second best, and most people – we at FiveWays included - used to believe that face-to-face meetings are essential when initiating a relationship with a financial adviser.
FiveWays has grown steadily since we set up in 2012. Mainly through recommendations from existing clients, our client numbers have grown and so have our staff. Our seven advisers and eight paraplanners and administrators now look after some 1500 clients. Historically, most people thinking of engaging FiveWays as their adviser met one of our advisers in person. But that has changed since March 2020. Like all adviser firms, we’ve had to follow ‘social distancing’ especially rigorously because many of our clients are in the more vulnerable older age groups. So we have switched away from in-person to ‘remote’ meetings and, in line with that, have eliminated as much paper and email as possible.
We and you have been surprised by just how much we can do with the remote technology. It is not just Zoom (or Whereby, a similar platform that we use) for video calls, but applications that allow us to share screens and documents, not to mention ‘client portals’ that give clients access to all their securely stored financial records and investments.
The result is that we can talk through all the aspects of the financial planning and advice process much more effectively than we had expected. One example is cash flow illustrations: we use these to show how your capital is likely to change over time and how this process is likely to be affected by changes in investment returns, interest rates and inflation. They’re a really useful ‘road map’ that are part of our initial advice package for those in the early years of retirement.
In the old days, we used to produce cash flow illustrations on paper. What a waste of coloured ink! Now we run through them with clients ‘live’ on screen and can show how one change, say in assumed inflation, alters all the numbers for years to come. Updating these cash flow illustrations is a simple way of showing whether you are ‘on track’ to meet your financial goals.
In the new paperless world, clients have access to a securely stored ‘electronic paper’ file so they can always review cash flow illustrations and our advice notes at any time, but most people find it a lot easier to understand when it’s done dynamically. And, if you don’t understand something we’ve sent you, it’s much easier to explain when you and the adviser are looking at the document together.
We have now successfully ‘onboarded’ many new clients without an initial face-to-face meeting. In most cases, we’ve promised to set up such a meeting as soon as we can. At the time of writing, that’s still some way off and there are clients who will soon reach their first anniversary with us without having actually met. That feels odd to us, but perhaps it won’t be long before it’s part of the ‘new normal’.